Using Web 2.0 tools has changed the way I work, the way I think about teaching and learning, and how I approach professional development as both a consumer and purveyor. Education works better when technology is used appropriately. More teachers need to get on board with using technology.
But. But but but.
Be a wary user and consumer. As we know, most tech sites are businesses. The designers, owners, and in some cases, stockholders of those sites are in it to make money. That means they make business-related decisions, and those decisions can affect the way we access and use those sites. Last November, I was pleased to be on a panel with Tom Liam Lynch at the NCTE convention in Orlando. Tom refers to business or political decisions that affect education as The Tweed Effect.
For example, let’s talk about Ning. Ning is a social-networking platform with enormous potential for educators. I discovered Ning when I joined English Companion in December, 2008. This site, begun by Jim Burke, is the best professional development resource I’ve ever seen, and its membership of almost 25,000 speaks to its relevance and importance.
In April, 2009, I launched The Fremd High School American Studies Ning and immediately saw the effects it had on student engagement and writing. I also used the Ning platform to host Writers Week @ Fremd High School, a site dedicated to information about our school’s annual celebration of writing. All of this was free for educators, as long as the primary clientele was K-12 students.
Then the earth shifted, and Ning decided to start charging. These free services that I had developed for my students were suddenly subject to a charge of about $1,000 a year. My two Nings most closely resembled the new NingPro product, which costs $500 a year. Although Ning offers a NingMini version that is still free to educators, it provides far less functionality than what my students and I were accustomed to using. Switching to the NingMini format would have been a big step backwards, and besides we had accumulated quite a body of writing and other information on our Nings, and we didn’t want to start over.
Thanks to the support and generosity of our school’s technology director Michael Bachrodt, our two Nings were funded for this year, and I’ve been told they will also be funded for next year. While I deeply appreciate this funding, I’m still disappointed in Ning for charging educators for using a product that they originally provided for free. But, like I said, it’s a business, and they have a right and maybe a need to do whatever they deem most likely to keep things financially viable.
Let’s move on to Delicious. Delicious.com is a social-bookmarking site that can be used as an excellent research tool. (For more on this, see The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks.) Next week, I’ll be showing students how to use Delicious as an effective alternative to traditional search engines. But will Delicious be here a year from now? Delicious is owned by Yahoo. A rumor is currently circulating–based on a graphic reportedly leaked from a Yahoo business strategy session–that Delicious is on a list of sites that Yahoo has given “sunset” status. This may (or may not) mean that Yahoo will sell, close, merge, or do something else with Delicious.
These experiences lead me to be wary of investing too much in specific Web 2.0 tools and platforms. For example, Twitter provides me with vast amounts of professional development resources and keeps me in touch with colleagues and leaders from around the world. Twitter currently does not host advertisers but is under constant scrutiny to see if it will possibly change its business model. Facebook frequently changes its privacy settings to the advantage of advertisers and seems more interested in making my information available to those advertisers than in serving my networking needs. (I’m thisclose to deleting myself from Facebook.)
What does this mean for educators? Let’s use these sites. Let’s use them a lot. Our students need to know how to navigate the virtual world as much as they need to know how to get along in the actual world. But the wise teacher will keep in mind that the sites we love today can be gone or changed overnight. Every business-based web tool is one corporate decision away from modifying or eliminating how we use it.
Enjoy them while they last.
As always, your comments and questions are welcome.